It’s easy to understand why employees feel concerned about being monitored at work. After all it’s human nature to feel uneasy knowing that someone is watching you all the time. In fact some people feel almost claustrophobic by just the thought of it, while others feel as if there is a serious lack of trust on the part of their employer. It is of course a somewhat sensitive subject because while the employee wants a bit of freedom in the workplace, the employer wants to ensure that there is control over their resources.
If you are an employee, before beginning to question why your employer might monitor your internet usage, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Think about the investment that has gone into the company, the costs associated with running it (your salary included!) and the security risks associated with downloading or distributing illegitimate material. On top of that, remember that any sort of loss of employee productivity, loss of data, downtime or the legal aspects associated with the downloading of illegitimate material (e.g. indecent images involving children) all result in loss of revenue for the company.
To put things into perspective, let’s take an example of employee productivity loss. Consider a company with 100 employees where the monthly salary bill is £300,000 and 75% of employees spend an average of 1 hour per day browsing personal websites. With an average working week being roughly 35 hours, this should give the company approximately 14,000 man hours per month. If 75 out of the 100 employees (10,500 man hours) spend an average of 1 hour per day browsing personal websites, that’s 1,500 hours (or approximately £32,250 – another headcount!) per month in productivity loss for the company! Given all this, it shouldn’t take you long to see where the employer is coming from when they want to manage internet usage in the workplace.
So where do employers draw the line? In short, employers need to take action as soon as employees start to abuse internet usage in terms of the sites they visit (pornographic, extremist, shopping, etc.) and/or the time they spend on non-work related sites. A complete blackout is not an option as many employees have a genuine need for internet access as part of their everyday job function. Setting out a fair internet usage policy would be a wise first step. Using internet monitoring software will allow you to ensure that this policy is being followed or enforce it via time restrictions (only allowing certain sites to be visited between certain times) or site restrictions (blocking certain categories of sites from being visited), or both.
My recommendation to employers is to use internet monitoring software to keep a record of internet activity in case there is a dispute further down the line, and as an indicator of who the “bad apples” are in the organization. Once there is enough evidence to show that there has been consistent abuse then take necessary measures via the management route first. Coming down hard on employees in the first instance, by blocking all their internet access for example, will probably have a worse effect in the long term.
It would be wise if the employer took a holistic view at the situation of employee internet monitoring and the abuse thereof, when making a decision about what stance to take. After all, if there is moderate personal internet usage in the workplace, yet employees are happy, sticking to their targets and contributing to the bottom line, then you might not even bother bringing the situation up in the first place.
For there to be mutual trust, expectations must be set on both sides. Employers need to make it clear to employees what they see as a fair internet usage policy and ensure that it is clearly communicated from the top down. On the other hand, employees must respect their employer’s wishes and use internet access for personal use in moderation (e.g. using internet for personal use during their lunch break or after working hours for 10 minutes before they hit the gym).